02 July 2009

Game Design Concepts: Mechanics and Narrative

Since I am going to be doing a fair bit of writing for Ian Schreiber's Game Design Concepts course this summer, I may as well blog some of this as well. Subsequent posts will have a title starting with "GDC:", and I will add a GDC label/tag as well.

In my first serious comment on the GDC forum, I responded to this comment:

wejbaldwin wrote: Diplomacy does not strengthen all multi-player games. If I want diplomacy in a game, I prefer to actually play Diplomacy. This is what that game is designed to be about. Most other games that actually have diplomacy elements turn out to be just Diplomacy with another set of rules and thus a waste of a design, in my opinion.

How elaborate is Twilight Imperium 3? Is it not Diplomacy with bells and whistles? When a game can essentially be boiled down to Diplomacy, why not just play Diplomacy? [emphasis added]

To be fair, wejbaldwin went on to write more than just this, but this is the part that inspired my reply.

My reply:

I am going to disagree with you a bit, though this is really more of an addition than a disagreement:

There are many games that share similar mechanics. That doesn't mean we only want to play the most boiled-down version. Most the the games in the Wargame/boardgame genre share similar mechanics; these typically have cardboard chits or metal/plastic miniatures representing military units which are removed from play during the course of the "battle". Most of these games can be boiled down to a partly random point scoring game that strongly resembles the card game cribbage. I am not about to give up my favorite wargames to play cribbage instead; it is not the same.

There can be a narrative story to games, either in what the game is about, or created in the mind of the player as they play. In Diplomacy this story is supposed to be about the political intrigues leading up to World War I, and it certainly exemplifies this mechanic, but it is quite possible to build a different story around the same mechanic. Indeed, game designers do just this all the time.

BattletechIf I take cribbage, replace the board with representations of tank-like war machines, replace the cards with dice, maps, and a complex set of rules governing how points are scored, I might end up with a game like Battletech or a host of many others. The basic mechanic of cribbage and Battletech is the same, but the narrative story and the way this involves the players in the game is very different.

[images CBT Gallery and www.hobbylinc.com]

PS: Speaking of Diplomacy, I just found this article on Asynchronicity in games at DESIGNER NOTES.
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